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Chill Factor

Review by Cynthia Fuchs
Posted 10 September 1999

Directed by Hugh Johnson

Starring Cuba Gooding Jr., 
Skeet Ulrich, Peter Firth, 
David Paymer, Hudson Leick, 
Daniel Hugh-Kelly, Kevin J. O'Connor, 
Judson Mills, Jordan Mott, 
Dwayne Macopson, and Jim Grimshaw

Written by Drew Gitlin and Mike Cheda 

It's easy to imagine a brainstorming session for this incredibly uninspired high concept buddy flick. It opens with the straight-up buddy idea: we've got two guys on the run. Two guys who are different as can be, as long as they're both young and good-looking and funny and ready for action. Or at least, they look like their stunt doubles can handle some action, preferably hanging off cliffs and falling off mountains or surviving terrifying white water rapids and a comical plunge over a waterfall.

And these hapless buddies -- they hate each other at first of course, but they learn to like each other. Because they have to endure harrowing predicaments. Because they have to be ingenious together. Because they're like a younger version of Riggs and Murtaugh. That's it. One's psycho and the other's sensible. Or they both take turns being psycho and sensible. That's better --they're like, unpredictable. They don't have families because they're young. But they have principles, like they believe in freedom and the right to happiness and stuff like that but they're also cynical, because they're young. And they're like, energetic and wild and unpredictable. Because they're young.

We need opposites. Black and white. Cool and crazy. Loud and quiet. Let's team that delightfully hot-headed Cuba Gooding Jr. with that adorably icy Skeet Ulrich. The explosions will be huge! The chemistry will be amazing! The opposites will attract! And here's the clincher: we'll make Cuba, who's so hot, an ice cream truck driver. To make it believable, we'll make him a disgruntled ice cream truck driver, fed up with working for The Man, who in this case is a white guy in a short-sleeved shirt and tie, his belly hanging over his belt and his face puffy and red. The thing is, Cuba has stolen this dilapidated ice cream truck to get even for various abuses by The Man, and he's trying to sell the ice cream before it melts, so he can make some cash.

So he goes to this diner in Jerome, Montana -- big sky, pretty vistas, treacherous mountain roads -- and he runs into Skeet. It'll be tremendous. The guys will argue, they won't trust each other. They'll be arguing when the Situation arises. Since Skeet lives in town, he'll have this friend, let's make him a brilliant scientist. But he's accessible, a nice guy, an older guy, someone with a deep dark secret. Who can we get? David Paymer, how's that? He can be, like, the straight man to Skeet, like he was to Billy Crystal in Mr. Saturday Night. And this scientist, he's got this moral crisis, because he's been involved in a military experiment, where he's invented this ghastly defoliant that kills a bunch of people during an test explosion.

We'll have this test happen before the real action -- on some military base on an island, so it's been covered up for years. The only person to suffer consequences will be the military overseer, this major or something -- he can be played by one of those serious stage actors who are looking for mass media exposure and money, someone like Alan Rickman in Die Hard or Malcolm McDowell in Die Hard 3 -- let's ask Peter Firth. We can shave his head and have glower a lot so he looks real menacing. He's sent to prison for the undue death during the test, and David Paymer can be feeling guilty. And then Peter and his minions -- who are really expensively outfitted, thin and mean-looking, Aryan or Eurotrashy types because they're villains that everyone can hate without moral qualms -- tracks down David to demand the defoliant.

David hooks up with Skeet because they like to fly fish. So we can get some Robert Redfordish father-sonnish bonding early in the film, where Skeet and David fish in a river against a gorgeous backdrop, where they can have a serious and foreboding conversation about the meaning of life, something that seems philosophical. David -- who's been living with this guilt, you see -- talks about thinking like a fish, or better, turning the hunters into the hunted. That way, Skeet will have something to remember when the climax comes, when the major and his Eurotrashy crew are about to win, to get the defoliant and murder Skeet and Cuba and take over the world. There should be a chick to ward off allegations that the movie is about a bunch of war-mongering or, god forbid, homosexual men. We can make her like a lethal Bond Girl, we'll get that Hudson Leick, who plays Callista on Xena, so people can think of her as a villain, but a campy villain, so her thrill-killing can be understood as a joke. Someone with a following. Someone with great legs. We'll give her spikey blond hair and a big fucking gun.

The deal with the defoliant is that it has to be kept cold --chilled -- under 50 degrees. This means that when they have to transport it, they have to use the ice cream truck. And they have to transport it because the scientist has an enemy who wants to use it to destroy the world, or at least extort huge sums of money from it. And the scientist wants to do the right thing because of his deep dark secret and the deep dark guilt he feels about it. The other deal about it the defoliant is that it's nicknamed Elvis, which means that we'll have no end of hilariously funny Elvis jokes  -- so what if most of them are predictable and silly? -- peppered throughout the film. It'll be a scream.

Naturally, David has to die because the buddy formula -- I mean, the dynamic -- can't accommodate him. But then you have these two young guys trying to save the planet and at the same time, doing this patriotic thing which they certainly don't think they want to be doing. But look, they really do embody the American way, two hard-working kids, witty and fast-talking, heroic in spite of themselves. When David passes off the defoliant to Skeet, who convinces Cuba to drive the truck, to deliver the defoliant to a fort near the Missoula Dam, so we can have a showdown at the Dam, lots of potential falling and extremely high camera angles at a place like that.  

From there the excitement won't quit. The jarheads are merciless and relentless, like Universal Soldiers or Terminators, only human, so the buddies have some kind of believable chance. Skeet and Cuba, they'll be our reality gauge. They're so sincere as actors, so real. Even when they're hanging off truck doors on the highway, trading japes at extreme moments, dodging bullets, trying to keep the defoliant cold. It'll be fantastic. Skeet can stay cool. Cuba can do his Academy-Awards-hysteria routine. They'll be so real. They'll be so --  And we can sign them up for sequels. No doubt.

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